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August 1, 2014

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4/03/00 Don't Do It, Dean!
It was big, big day for me. I had just moved to a small market to run my own Radio station, and today I was holding my first staff meeting. Having worked at some pretty great Radio stations in some pretty big markets, I was aware that major-market broadcasters were always "better" broadcasters. But I wanted to become an owner, and small-town America was all that I could afford to buy into at the time. Giving directions to our studios was easy: "Itís the little building beside the Radio tower that has the horses grazing underneath it."


My first day with the new staff was hysterical. "You guys have got to learn how things are done in the major markets," I said. "From now on, no more cowboy boots or casual shirts. I want three-piece, navy pinstripe suits." They started wearing suits to work. "No more of this wasted time with clients talking about family and things other than business," I said. "I want you to go in there, get right to business, close the order and then move on to the next one."


Being young and stupid, I couldnít understand why the station billing began to slide and why we were losing clients at a record rate. Now I realize that I was trying to be a big shot in a small market, and the small market bucked me harder than a bareback rider on an angry bull.


When Dean Sorenson was introduced to me at an idea-bank meeting, I was told that he was probably the best broadcaster in the Radio business. The man was doing impossible things in several small markets that he owned in the Dakotas. Dean Sorenson saved my career when he took me under his wing and helped me understand what made for good Radio in small-town America. Looking back, Iíll bet that Dean was itching to say something about my big-city, big-shot attitude, but he was never anything but supportive. As I listened to Dean speak at events over the years, it slowly dawned on me that small-market operators are perhaps the finest broadcasters in the world. These are the folks are never automatically on the buys; they have to be incredibly creative, inventive and frugal to survive. The daily disciplines that mold these terrific broadcasters are lessons that could benefit all of us.


Fortunately, I learned some of those lessons from Dean before I moved on to ownership in bigger places; and because of him, I finally understood that my big-city arrogance had done nothing but create barriers between my station and its clients.


Dean received Radio Inkís "Broadcaster of the Year" Radio Wayne award this year, and few men have ever deserved it as much as he did. When I learned that Dean Sorenson had decided to hang up his headphones and sell his stations, it hit me really hard. Radio desperately needs more broadcasters like Dean Sorenson.

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